Why “the passing things of earth” doesn’t (just) mean jewelry or luxury automobiles
Paul tells the Colossians, “Give your heart to the heavenly things, not to the passing things of earth” (Colossians 3:2, Phillips; NIV) and for a long time I thought he meant not to focus on the latest gadget, clothes, cars, jewelry and the like.
But recently I happened to read it in context; the flow of Paul’s argument makes me think it’s much bigger than that.
- He reminds us in 2:8-12 about Christ’s identity and our connection to him; he urges us to not to be distracted from Christ by fine-sounding arguments;
- He follows that up by reminding us in 2:13-15 that we’re forgiven and made alive with Christ.
- As a consequence, we need not bother with a lot of religious regulations (2:16-23)
- It’s at this point that he tells us to set our hearts on things above in 3:1-4.
- Therefore, Paul says, put aside “whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (3:5-11) and he lists some of them out: sexual immorality, lust, greed, anger, gossip, abusive speech, racism/elitism.
- Instead, he urges us to compassion, kindness and the like (3:12-14)
Yes, greed is mentioned in 3:5, but it’s just one item in Paul’s list of silly things we do. It’s also interesting to me that Paul sets Christ (who is our life, 3:4) in contrast to all these other things:
- deceptive philosophy, human tradition and the basic principles of this world (2:8)
- physical circumcision (2:11)
- death through sin (2:13)
- the written legal code (2:14) and regulations about food and drink (2:21)
- powers and authorities (2:15)
- religious festivals, including the religious calendar: sabbath and holy days (2:16)
- false humility and the worship of angels (2:18)
- sensual indulgence (2:23)
- sexual immorality, impurity, lust, greed (3:5)
- anger, cursing, grudges and gossip (3:8)
- lying (3:9)
- distinctions based on ethnicity or politico-economic situations (3:11)
Whereas I tend to think of these things separately — anger-related issues, sex-related stuff, obsession with rituals, etc. — Paul puts them all into the same bucket, and calls them “the passing things of earth.” Which they are — they’re all dumb, and they’ll all pass. So if I say, “I won’t do this but I’ll wink at that” — well, that’s folly.
May the Lord help us set our hearts more on Christ. May he strengthen us to do the right thing:
[A]s God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.from Colossians 3:12-14